April 7, 2008

Absolute Grows CG Vines, Grapes for Spot

“One Love,” the commercial for Hardys Wine, relies heavily on the input and creativity of Absolute for its latest spot to create photorealistic, time-lapse, macro CG. Despite the project’s short schedule, the CG was so convincing that the client asked Absolute to develop the all-important end shot in 3D, rather than using the end frame that was captured in-camera as originally planned.

The commercial tells the story of how the wine’s founder, Thomas Hardy, after leaving England, had to overcome adversity in his pursuit of creating wine in the New World. The spot’s visuals reinforce the story being told, by showing how a single sprouting plant in a barren landscape, can be tended, and in time blossom into a mature vineyard. Although much of the footage was filmed as live-action, every element that appears to be growing in time-lapse was created in 3D in a manner that would blend into the macro-photography live-action.

Absolute’s vision was to create the illusion of a single sapling in a harsh landscape, becoming part of one man’s vision to create a vineyard in an untamed part of Australia. This fruition was to be portrayed in the timescale of one day, not the many years it needed in reality. Absolute’s VFX supervisors and 3D artist, Richard Nelson, attended the two-day shoot in McLaren Vale, South Australia, which would provide the background live-action plates.
Everyone involved was aware of the limited time for post, so Absolute created a detailed animatic. This also helped the client, at a very early stage, to understand and input into the extensive design and composition.

The main challenge for Absolute was to add CG and puppeteer elements seamlessly into the edit. This was made more of a challenge by the director’s decision to shoot almost in a guerilla style, but with a very shallow depth of field. This created a series of stunningly beautiful plates, but made the job more complex when it came to compositing the real live-action and CG elements together.
After numerous tests, a style of animation was decided upon, which was essentially time-lapse but without its inherent jerky imperfections. This meant that the relaxed pace of the spot was not compromised by often twitchy movements of plants that viewers have become used to seeing in natural history programs.
After studying reference elements from the shoot, Absolute knew that integrating CG leaves with live action would be tricky. The back lighting in many of the shots meant that translucency would play a major role in the ad’s believability. To create the desired look, the team at Absolute had to find ways to mimic the way light passes through leaves, and account for new leaves having very different properties from mature ones.
A bunch of grapes was lovingly prepared to create the illusion of a heart, but when the client viewed the CG maturing grapes they decided the real grapes 'didn't look as good'. So the 3D department stepped in to supply a heart-shaped bunch of CG grapes, which everyone involved decided was fitting for the endframe.

The 3D team’s technical challenges involved matching real-world lighting effects displayed on real grapes and leaves (transparency, translucency, and sub-surface scattering) as well as creating microscopic fur on the plants’ leaves and stalks. Both had to be accurate enough to stand up against extreme live-action close-ups. The macro nature of the photography, and all its inherent imperfections, had also to be matched in 3D, as did the extreme focus shifts. Different animation rigs were built and re-timed to create flexibility and grape/leaf/vine variation across the shots.

Once the 3D elements had been built and perfected, the job went into Flame The elements were supplied as ‘tons’ of layers so that Absolute’s Flame artist, Hani AlYousif, could play around with latitudes in order to perfect bed the 3D into the live action.

Each 3D element required 14 passes in order to get it exactly matching the surrounding live-action. The time-lapse nature of the animation meant that there were issues with progression, like when leaves go from dark to bright. These passes were for issues like brightness, darkness, veins, sub-surface scattering and translucency.

Some 3D vines had to be sub-divided into three separate elements to account for the time-lapse effect where the front of the leaf would sometimes be dark and waxy, while the middle was neutral and the back was bright and translucent. This photographic style creates extremes in depth-of-field which also had to be accounted for. These variables meant that Hani often had to deal with 3 x 14 passes to create a photorealistic effect.

Flame was also used to highlight the stalk’s fur, create random dappled shadows, play with the grapes’ textures to create the differentiation through the fruits using variations in shininess, ageing details, and color.

Product: Hardys Wine
Title: One Love
Airdate: 4th April 2008
Post Production: Absolute
VFX Producer: Chris Allen
3D: Richard Nelson, Matt Burn, Jamie White, Huggy
Flame: Hani AlYousif
Combustion: Dan Letherdale, James Cornwell
Agency: McCann Response (part of McCann Erickson UK)
Creatives: Jim Anderson, Martin Parkes
Agency Producer: Amanda Lowitt
Group Account Director: Paul Dean
Production Company: RSA Films
Director: Stuart Rideout
Prod Co Producer: Scott Horing

3D Kit Info:
PFTrack and Boujou (used for 3D tracking)
Maya 8.5 (used for modeling, rigging, animating, and texturing)
Photoshop (used for creating textures)
Mental Ray, inc ‘MIA Shader’ for leaf lighting effects (used for rendering)
Shake (used for pre-comping)